Landmark court ruling against vote buying in Sri Lanka a victory for democracy — PAFFREL

Every year, the International Day of Democracy is observed on September 15 to analyze the state of democracy across the world.

This day plays an important role in highlighting the important role of parliaments, and to celebrate their capacity and mandate to deliver on justice, peace, development and human rights. Sri Lanka is the oldest democracy in Asia in terms of universal suffrage, which was granted by the Donoughmore Constitution in 1931.

In South Asia, among the multiple meanings, people attribute to democracy are freedom, justice and welfare, popular rule, elections and political parties, and the rule of law. Compared with Africa and East Asia, the South Asian meaning of democracy puts more emphasis on equality and justice. People also have anxieties about democracy. Corruption is the principal anxiety, and the most disliked aspect of democracy for the South Asian citizens. Various surveys have found that Sri Lanka’s preference for representative democracy is quite high as it is the case with Bangladesh, India and Nepal. They believe that the country should be governed by those chosen by the people in a fair election. Therefore, it is vital that the process of electing representatives of the people should be just and fair and free of corruption.

As you may already know, few days before the International Day of Democracy, a landmark judgment was delivered against bribing the voters in elections, which is a huge victory of the democracy loving people of this country.

The judgment was given by the High Court Judge of Monaragala, in respect of a case filed by PAFFREL in collaboration with loosing candidate and the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence against a candidate of one of the local government bodies in the Monaragala District for offering various kinds of bribes to the voters at the last local government elections.

The judgment declared the candidate who had purportedly won the seat by bribing the voters as null and void and accordingly he was removed by order of the Court and the candidate who had secured the next highest number of votes was ordered to be appointed to fill the vacant position.

As an Election monitoring organization we receive complaints often about candidates paying various bribes to voters in Sri Lankan Elections, but it was extremely difficult to prove as the person received bribes doesn’t come forward to provide evidence due to the threats, political power of the person who gave bribe and many other reasons, which are obstacles to uphold democracy.

However, with all these obstacles, we were able to prove in High Courts in Monaragala that a candidate who contested for Monaragala Local Government Elections in 2018 had bribed voters to obtain votes to win the Elections. This was possible as we were able to obtain required information through the Right to Information Act.

This historic ruling will serve as a deterrent to future candidates in bribing the voters. Even if they continue to bribe, their election will be liable to be challenged subsequently. In addition, the need for enacting laws to limit election expenses by candidates and provision of a level playing field for all candidates in an election has been re- emphasized. The court ruling for this case is extremely crucial for democracy in Sri Lanka and it is also a victory for the Right to Information Act.


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